High Court Decision On Expert Evidence In Kanye West Royalties Dispute

A recent judgment from the High Court in a case where Russells is representing UMG Recordings, Inc. (“UMG”), part of the Universal group, serves as a timely reminder to litigants of the importance of considering the use of expert evidence early in a dispute and to budget appropriately for the expert’s costs.

The case concerns the calculation of streaming royalties payable to Declan Colgan Music Limited (“DCML”) by UMG for the use of a sample of the King Crimson recording “21st Century Schizoid Man” in Kanye West’s track “Power”. DCML alleges that the relevant contract is to be construed to equate streaming with CD sales and for royalties to be calculated and paid accordingly.

DCML sought permission to call expert evidence on the nature of the streaming market in 2005 (the year in which the relevant contract was entered into) but, in a judgment handed down on 5 January 2023, the High Court in London refused permission.

The Court noted that (i) it was not satisfied as to whether there was a reliable body of knowledge or experience underpinning an expert’s evidence on the issue, and (ii) the costs budgeted by the Claimant appeared to be disproportionately high. The Court considered whether to make a preliminary order for an expert report to be produced and its admissibility determined at a later date, but declined to make such an order “unless and until the likely cost of the expert evidence is re-visited and reduced”.

The judgment has been reported in the Independent and The Lawyer:

Steven Tregear and Alice Rudge are acting on behalf of UMG.

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